Updated: Jun 18
In my first blog post, I wrote about the importance of hydration and how to improve the absorption of water by adding electrolytes. But what exactly are electrolytes, why they are good for us, and how we can get them naturally?
When you think of the word electrolytes, what comes to mind? For many people, this word conjures up an image of a plastic bottle of Gatorade or Powerade, containing brightly colored liquid, held by a sporty sweaty person who looks super thirsty. The question that not many people ask is, what makes those drinks look so bright in being neon-glowing green, punchy pink and ballistic blue? But more on this later…
Let’s start by defining What Are Electrolytes?
They are electrically charged minerals and compounds present in our blood and other bodily fluids that help our bodies do much of their work, like contracting our muscles and producing energy. Electrolytes are the spark plugs for cellular functions throughout the body. Sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium and phosphate/phosphorus are all electrolytes. We get them from what we eat and drink. Electrolyte levels must stay within a fairly small range or serious problems may arise.
What Do Electrolytes Do? They regulate the fluid levels in our blood plasma and body. They keep the pH of our blood in the normal range (7.35-7.45 which is slightly alkaline). They transmit nerve signals from muscles and nerve cells to other cells. This enables muscle contractions, including the steady beating of our hearts! They help our blood to clot and help to build new tissue, which are both important after an injury. (1)
What Can Cause an Electrolyte Imbalance? Here is where the sweaty sports image comes back to mind because we lose electrolytes in our sweat. We also lose fluids when we are sick with a fever and especially if we have persistent vomiting or the d-word (diarrhea). Chronic respiratory problems, like emphysema, can cause imbalances. As well as having higher-than-normal blood pH (a condition called metabolic alkalosis). Medications such as laxatives, steroids and diuretics cause us to lose electrolytes. Diuretics are in our beloved beverages like coffee, black & green tea and the many enticing forms of alcohol. Some people don’t eat enough natural foods (like fruits and vegetables) and most people simply don’t drink enough plain water.
What are the symptoms of an Electrolyte Imbalance? Muscle weakness. Headache. Irregular or fast heartbeat. Extreme thirst. Numbness. Fatigue or lethargy. Confusion or disorientation. A change in blood pressure. A seizure, which is serious! But even simple things like muscle cramps, spasms or twitching can be signs of an electrolyte imbalance.
So then How do we Keep our Electrolytes Balanced?
Eat foods high in electrolytes: Fruits including strawberries, oranges, bananas (hello, potassium!) watermelon, and tomatoes. All beans, including soybeans and peanuts (but some people have issues with those two). Dairy products of milk, buttermilk and yogurt (if you digest dairy well). Meats of turkey, chicken, fish and veal (but not many of us eat veal for good reasons). Raisins and olives also contain a good amount of electrolytes. (2)
The best foods are Green Vegetables: Yes, we know we are supposed to eat our veggies, but really, we are! For so many beneficial reasons, including electrolyte replenishment. Leafy greens such as swiss chards, beet greens, bok choy, spinach and kale are packed with electrolytes. They are especially rich in magnesium, potassium and calcium. Celery, broccoli and avocado are also good sources. Toss something green into every meal for an electrolyte boost.
Drink plenty of water: You may have heard to not drink too much water because it can flush electrolytes out of our systems. But for most people, there is very little risk of this being an issue because many studies have shown that 50-75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. One survey (3) showed that although Americans drank about 8 servings of hydrating beverages per day, their consumption was offset by drinking caffeinated beverages and alcohol and eating a diet high in sodium. The water consumption guideline (that I shared in my first blog post) of drinking half of your body weight in ounces everyday seems like a lot of water, but we need it. We also need to offset diuretic beverages by drinking 1.5 times more additional water!
Avoid Commercial Sports Drinks: It is very important to replenish ourselves with fluids after several hours of strenuous activity as well as intense workouts of short duration. But don’t go for Gatorade! Ditch those sports drinks!! Same goes for soda pop, but don’t get me started… Commercial sports drinks are full of artificial sweeteners, preservatives and fake color chemicals additives. The 3 most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are contaminated with known carcinogens = cancer (4).
You can make your own natural sports drink with 16 oz water, 2 Tbsp maple syrup, 1 tsp sea salt, a good dose of lemon/lime juice and some ice if you want to cool down. Add a sprig of mint for a natural mojito.
Another fruit-forward idea is to add a handful of berries to your water to give it color and flavor...which can be much more enticing to drink than plain water. Which leads us back to the best ways to improve hydration…
How to boost your water absorption with Natural Electrolytes:
Sea Salt –Sodium is one of the electrolytes we lose the quickest through sweat. Ingesting salt in an easy way to replace what we lose. Natural salt also contains the electrolytes calcium, potassium, magnesium and other trace minerals. Avoid table salt because it is processed and often has maltodextrin and anti-caking agents added to it. Sea salts, Himalayan and Celtic sea salts are all high-quality salts that are widely available in most grocery stores. Add a pinch or a shake to your water and drink up. It’s that easy!
My favorite salt is Redmond Real Sea Salt.
Citrus Fruits – Limes and lemons are the kings and queens of citrus when it comes to electrolytes. They are a good source of calcium, potassium and magnesium. They have a beautiful ability to detoxify the liver, balance pH levels and boost the immune system with vitamin C. Add a squeeze or lemon or lime to your water for a nice sour punch of electrolytes. This is much better for us than a sugary punch.
Trace Minerals – I add 10 drops of Trace Mineral liquid minerals to my morning mug of hot water as well as before bed. I also try to take 2 tablets of Electrolyte Stamina tablets before and after I exercise. You can find both products in natural food stores as well as through Amazon.
Coconut Water – If you don’t have time to make your own sports drink, coconut water is a great way to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes, especially potassium. Coconut water is packed with nutrients and is low in sugar. However, if you are consuming it just for the nice taste and not after a workout, it is wise to mix it with the same amount of water to dilute the sugars. Look for pure coconut water that has been minimally processed. If you have access to real coconut, you can puncture it twice and drink directly from it with a straw. Add a paper umbrella to the other hole to feel like you’re in the tropics…and drink some pure water after to balance the sugars.
Natural Calm: Magnesium is one of the most important electrolytes to keep replenished because magnesium deficiency can cause muscle cramping, constipation, anxiety, insomnia and numerous other problems because it is critical in so many bodily processes. Natural Calm is a drinkable magnesium supplement that is highly absorbable. Drinking a glass every night before bed is a great way to calm muscles and relax the body. You can increase the dose in hot weather when you’re exercising. But if your bowels (aka BMs) get too loose it could be because the form of Magnesium Citrate is a bit of a laxative. Either cut back on the amount until things down under are just right or take Magnesium Glycinate instead.
Magnesium Glycinate (I take 2 of these before bed)
Natural Calm comes in a variety of flavors but I use the original unflavored.
I’ve offered plenty of electrolyte information to chew on and drink up… I hope you are inspired to integrate these tips into your daily life. I recommend starting with one tip that seems easy for you and add it to your water daily for a week. Then try adding another the following week. You will steadily build new healthy habits for optimizing your hydration.
All of your cells will thank you!
1) Addiss, Faith. (2018, August 20). Electrolytes – What Are They? What Happens If You Don’t Have Enough?, Retrieved from https://www.roswellpark.org/cancertalk/201808/electrolytes-what-are-they-what-happens-if-you-dont-have-enough
2) Luo, Elaine K. (2019, May 13). 25 Food That Replenish Electrolytes. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-nutrition/electrolytes-food
3) 6 Dehydration Facts That May Surprise You. (2015, January 21) Retrieved from https://dripdrop.com/blogs/news/6-dehydration-facts-may-surprise#_edn1
4) CSPI Says Food Dyes Pose Rainbow of Risks. (2010, June 29). Retrieved from https://cspinet.org/new/201006291.html
5) 5 Natural Electrolyte Boosters. (2017, September 15). Retrieved from https://www.naturalvitality.com/blog/5-natural-electrolyte-boosters/